What is a civil partnership?

This page was last updated on 1 May 2022

What is a civil partnership In 2022

A civil partnership is a legal contract between two people who are usually same-sex or transgender. Heterosexual couples may also choose to become civil partners, but this is very rare due to the availability of marriage.

Once you have registered your civil partnership, it gives both people certain rights and responsibilities towards each other. It means that if one of you becomes ill or dies, the other partner will be able to make financial arrangements and will have parental responsibility for their partner’s children. Your partner will also have the right to visit you in hospital or jail if necessary and make decisions about your medical treatment.

When were civil partnerships introduced?

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to specifically give same sex couples and transgender couples the same rights as heterosexuals in legal matters such as inheritance, financial support, parental responsibility, medical consent and tax entitlements. This means that the legal rights that married people enjoy are also enjoyed by civil partners.

The difference between civil partnerships and living together

Although many people choose to live together prior to becoming civil partners, the legal status of this arrangement is quite different from that of a legal civil partnership. In fact, living together does not give either party any additional rights over and above those they already have as same sex partners in a private relationship.

Living together without a civil union doesn’t mean you don’t love each other or are not making a commitment to each other, but a civil partnership gives the relationship legal recognition and security. Civil partners living together might offer advantages if one partner dies suddenly or becomes ill. You should also consider your financial position – for example how assets will be divided up if you separate from your partner.

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The difference between civil partnerships and marriage

A UK civil partnership offers virtually the same legal rights as marriage. Until recently, the main difference was that marriage was open to opposite sex couples only and civil partnerships were generally open to same-sex couples only (though this changed in recent years).

Marriage laws have also changed in the past decade so that same sex couples can get married anywhere in the UK, in addition to being able to form civil partnerships.

Marriage can be conducted in a church or other religious building, but religious venues are not obligated to hold civil partnership ceremonies and the civil partnership ceremony is also not allowed to be religious in nature.

There are some legal differences between the separating procedures; couples in civil partnerships must get a dissolution, whilst married couples get a divorce. Dissolution is the legal process that ends a civil partnership. It is similar to divorce, however, it does not have such a negative stigma nor do you need the same grounds for dissolution as you would for divorce.

Why get a civil partnership instead of getting married?

Since marriage is now legal for all couples, including same sex couples and transgender couples, you may wonder why a civil partnership would still be attractive.

Many people do not favour a ‘traditional’ marriage because of the religious connotations that still exist surrounding it.

Civil partnership ceremonies are usually performed in local registry offices and there’s no religious involvement. However, in many ways registering a civil partnership is almost identical to getting married – you have a ceremony that will provide legal recognition so that your relationship with your partner is officially acknowledged, you can share the same surname and have the same legal rights as those who are married.

Registering a civil partnership

To register civil partnerships is not as complicated as to organise marriages. In fact, the procedure is very simple – all you need to do is give notice of your pre registration agreement with a general register office and then visit a local registrar’s office to complete the paperwork.

You will have to wait at least 28 days after giving notice before you can visit a registrar together to complete the application process. You’ll be asked for identification documents such as passports and birth certificates which show both of your names.

It is advisable that you make an appointment for the registration visit, especially if it is during school half-term or other busy periods when there may be queues or delays. The registration form itself must be signed by both people who want to register their partnership.

Who can register a civil partnership

You can register in the UK if you’re:

  • at least 16 years old (you will need parental consent if you are under 18)
  • not closely related to your intended partner
  • not already married or in a civil partnership.

If you or your partner are from outside the UK

If either you or your partner are not a British citizen, you may need to apply for a certificate of no impediment before you can register your civil partnership. This is an official document, provided free of charge by the Home Office or British embassy abroad, which confirms that neither person has any legal reason why they cannot get married.

If you’re having trouble getting hold of this document, most registrars will be able to give you some advice on how best to proceed – but they may ask for payment, so it’s advisable to check first.

A civil partnership is a legal contract between two people who are usually same-sex or transgender. Heterosexual couples may also choose to become civil partners, but this is very rare due to the availability of marriage.

A certificate of no impediment is not always needed. To find out, check with the Home Office or British embassy in your country of origin. This certificate is usually required when one or both partners are from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) or when one or both partners are already in a marriage or civil partnership.

How much does a civil partnership cost?

The cost of registering is usually £35 plus any legal fees, which is the same as getting married in England and Wales. However, if you want to obtain a civil partnership document outside of the UK it will cost considerably more – anywhere from £360 to £1,420 depending on where you decide to hold your ceremony.

Costs in Scotland and Ireland differ slightly from those in England and Wales.

Banking and civil partnerships

Couples who are in a civil partnership can choose whether or not to open a joint bank account. You should consider how you would like to manage your income, living expenses, and other financial responsibilities.

The main advantage of opening a joint account, rather than keeping separate bank accounts, is that you can both see exactly where your money is going – this makes it easier to manage the household finances and make decisions about spending priorities. It also means that should one partner die suddenly or become ill, the other won’t face any financial problems such as late payment notices – which could lead to eviction/repossession.

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However, while taking out a joint account allows couples to keep track of their money better, it also leaves them more vulnerable should there ever be a split/separation. This is because an ex-partner who holds the account jointly with them is likely to retain access – in fact, they may be able to withdraw money even if they haven’t been named on the account.

If both members of a couple are listed on an account, it’s advisable that each of their salaries is paid into this single shared bank account instead of two separate accounts. This is because it will make it easier for both people to manage their expenses/budgets and plan accordingly. It might also make sense for one person to take responsibility for household bills (washing machine/gas/electric), while the other manages food shopping or monthly travel costs.

Children and civil partnerships

Civil partnership automatically includes a legally binding parental responsibility agreement. When a child’s birth parent dies, an opposite sex civil partnership endowes legal responsibility on each partner to provide care and financial provision for the children of the other person. 

Inheritance and civil partnerships

You will automatically inherit if your civil partner dies, just as members of married couples do. This is because the legal relationship of civil partners is  the same as spouses in this instance – which means that the surviving civil partner can automatically inherit any property or money left behind by their deceased partner.

When a will has been made, it’s usually written so that the person who made it isn’t taxed on what they leave behind – this is known as ‘writing off’ and means that there will be no inheritance tax. If you inherit something from your civil partner, you won’t have to pay inheritance tax – unless it was inherited under a will that has not been written off. If you are not included in the will of your civil partner, you will not inherit any money as a result – but you may be able to claim against your deceased partner’s estate.

civil partnership rights

It’s important to realise that if one partner dies without leaving a will, this is not automatically the end of the civil partnership. The fact that your partner didn’t leave a will doesn’t mean that you can’t inherit anything and won’t have any personal claims against the estate – it just means that you’ll need to apply for ‘letters of administration’.

In order to apply for letters of administration, the surviving partner must prove their right to do so – this normally involves producing a document from the solicitor who arranged the civil partnership registration. It is advisable to seek independent legal advice in this situation.

Converting a civil partnership into a marriage

In England and Wales, you can convert a same-sex civil partnership into a marriage under UK law. However, this will only be possible if you and your civil partner both agree to the marriage. You will need your original civil partnership document to make this conversion.

In Scotland, the civil partnership rights regarding conversion to marriage are different to those in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, the civil partnership law does not allow this conversion.

Ending a registered civil partnership

You can’t just ‘end’ a civil partnership – you must get an official dissolution for legal recognition. This is the only way that you can terminate the partnership legally.

To get a dissolution, you must have been a couple for at least one year, so you are absolutely sure about the decision to dissolve this legal commitment.

civil partnerships act

You may end a civil partnership for one of the following reasons:

  • Unreasonable behaviour – if your partner has behaved in such a way that you can’t reasonably be expected to live with them
  • You and your partner have lived apart for 2 years, and you both agree to a dissolution
  • You and your partner have lived apart for 5 years, and one of you wants a dissolution
  • Your partner deserted you at least 2 years ago

After the appropriate paperwork has been done, you will be given an entitlement to dissolution, a ‘conditional offer’ (which you must accept). 6 weeks after you have been issued the conditional offer, you can obtain a ‘certificate of dissolution’ which officially ends the civil partnership.

In most cases, it will be necessary for you to have been legally represented when applying for your registration of dissolution – but this won’t always be the case if there has been abuse in the relationship or if one of you is abroad. In these instances, an ‘alternative’ official can dissolve your civil partnership on your behalf instead.

Circumstances where a civil partnership is not possible

In order to join lives as civil partners, both of you must be over the age of 16 and not already married or in a civil partnership with anybody else. You can’t convert a civil partnership into a marriage if either of you has been married before – you will instead need to get divorced first.

It’s also important that both parties are capable of consenting to the joining together of their lives as one legal entity – this means that both people should be mentally competent enough to understand what they’re doing, and physically able to agree on the arrangement. For example, people who are severely ill may struggle to understand what they are agreeing to when registering for a civil partnership, so it would not be legally possible for them to do so.

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Article author

James Lloyd

I am the primary writer and author for Help and Advice, having originally helped start the site because I recognised that there was a need for easy to read, free and comprehensive information on the web. I have been able to use my background in finance to produce a number of articles for the site, as well as develop the financial fitness assessment tool. This is a tool that provides you with practical advice on improving your personal financial health.

Outside of work I am a keen rugby player and used to play up to a semi-professional level before the years of injury finally took their toll.  Now you are more likely to see me in the clubhouse enjoying the game.

Email – james@helpandadvice.co.uk

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Frequently Asked Questions

 

What is a civil partnership?

A civil partnership is a legal contract between two people who are usually same-sex or transgender. Heterosexual couples may also choose to become civil partners, but this is very rare due to the availability of marriage.

When were civil partnerships introduced?

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 was introduced to specifically give same sex couples and transgender couples the same rights as heterosexuals in legal matters such as inheritance, financial support, parental responsibility, medical consent and tax entitlements.

Why get a civil partnership instead of getting married?

Since marriage is now legal for all couples, including same sex couples and transgender couples, you may wonder why a civil partnership would still be attractive.

How much does a civil partnership cost?

The cost of registering is usually £35 plus any legal fees, which is the same as getting married in England and Wales.

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